Life is Beautiful… Or is it?
The value of life changed drastically depending on conditions humanity lived in. When resources are scarce people resort to cruel and practical decisions, valuing the life of strong and healthy individuals more than the rest. In overcrowded cities the cases of horrible neglection of human life are also very common, much more common than in a small town where no one is a piece of statistical data, but a person known by their neighbors, the grocery shop owner and the lady who walks her dog nearby.
What determines the real value of life? Is every life priceless? What is the value of life in modern society? We’ll try to think over this questions in this essay.
The first factor that determines the value of life, on the level of basic instincts, is the amount of resources that are around to support that life. The survivors of the plane crashes or the shipwrecks committed the horrible acts that were more suitable for psychos and maniacs than for the ordinary people they most certainly were. But this doesn’t mean they all had hidden psychiatric issues. These unfortunate people just resorted to their basic instincts to survive, placing their own lives and the lives of their relatives on the top of the rank. It is hard to be compassionate if compassion means the choice between life or death.
But even in such dreadful conditions not everyone puts their own life as the first priority. This brings us to the next factor – relationships. A parent would often give up his or her life to let their children live. The family bonds or the strong friendship often becomes the reason of the ultimate altruism – exchanging one’s own life to the lives of the dearest ones. This trait defines humanity as a separate specie – only a few of the other animals are capable to sacrifice themselves for their family consciously.
The third criteria that determines the value of life is overpopulation. The experiments made on mice and other mammals show that in their population the value of life decreases when the population grows in the closed space (even when the resources are plenty) up to the pointless murders and declining to mate and produce offspring. In human population it is, of course, not so prominent, but still the overpopulation influences the value of human life greatly.
The notorious saying “One is a tragedy, but a million is statistics” has something behind it – in the crowded cities the people one sees around in hundreds and thousands every day become depersonalized for our conscience. It is just overwhelming to think about everyone we see, about their possible personality and traits. In small villages, when the meetings and new acquaintances are much rarer, everyone is a personality, good or bad, but still knowing about each other strengthens the bond and increases the value of life.
The exclusive factor for humanity is, of course, religion and philosophy of life. The ancient images of life were based on observing the cycle of nature. The image of the Tree of Life is very common in lots of the cultures, from Yggdrasil to Slavic embroidery, from Mesopotamian myths to Chinese ones. Ironically, but the scheme of the evolution presented by Charles Darwin (that gets so much criticism from the representatives of major religions) was also called by him the Tree of Life.
This archetype represents the ancient value of the family that grows, giving new branches and leaves and portrays the world as an ultimate family of everything alive. The societies that developed such a mythology usually valued their family members very highly (except some cultural conditions where female or sick members were valued less). Giving up personal for the well-being of the whole family was considered a noble act and everyone, at least nominally, could count on the support of their clan. One of the worst kinds of punishment was disowning or exile – severing ties with one’s family, becoming a “broken branch” of the Tree of Life.
Another popular concept that was more common in Eastern countries is the circle of life. Based also on looking at nature cycles this philosophy suggests that death leads to the new rebirth as something or someone else. Not only this idea helped to get along with the concept of death, the circle of life also worked more as a depersonalized judge that determined the next rebirth according to the deeds of a person in life.
Usually the next life was chosen as best to suit the main traits of the person – e.g. cruel people could become carnivores to satisfy their cruelty by killing their prey. The religion or philosophy based on the concept of circle of life decreases the value of life itself – because life isn’t something unique anymore – but emphasises the importance to live the life decently, because it will be harder later to correct the mistakes.
Modern life, with its ability to live multiple virtual lives, so real that they can substitute one’s “natural one” almost completely, offers us another concept of life and value of it. Internet allows us to maintain multiple identities and the development of virtual reality and virtual worlds such as “Second Life” give us a possibilities to see, hear and interact as these identities.
For some people, especially for those who were born after the Internet grew popularity, the value of their virtual lives is, paradoxically, bigger than the value of their real, physical life. Failure to see the difference between the two and set priorities right sometimes causes real suicides or depression because of virtual identity theft or cyberbullying.
The second life in the virtual reality is designed specially to be brighter, happier and more intense than the real one, so it differs from the real life as much as a Snickers from a garden apple. It is very important for people in modern life to keep the bond with the reality strong, just to understand the real value of their physical existence even if it isn’t as happy as virtual one.
Still, the positive tendencies are much stronger in the modern life. Though still a bit hypocritically (especially when it comes to the tough question like euthanasia and abortions) humanity declares the life of each human priceless. Those who are born are already lucky for life and there is no meaning to measure their value for the whole society. It is the society that exists to make a wonderful life for its members, not vice versa.
The new cultural values work now not for some chosen groups of perfect people who deserve to live. They exist to make the living comfortable and enjoyable for every member of the society, disregarding of their issues. The whole major branch of psychology – positive psychology or the psychology of happiness – is dedicated to finding new ways to show people that life is beautiful, to let them find their own meaning of it.
Though it still seems like an utopia, this life I live. I do my best to see something great in each day of my life, and if there is nothing great in it I will make something that will light it up. Knowing that the life is finite and, possibly, there is nothing beyond it after death, I still see that life is beautiful.
The truth for life as I see it is in the fact that it is given for us to enjoy it to the fullest extent, to create something valuable, for yourself only or for the whole humanity. The scale of your deeds in no way determines the value of your life, because I do believe that modern life will soon allow everyone to life a wonderful life just because they exist.
Of course I realise that there are the whole regions where life can be incredibly miserable and where people suffer from the very birth. There are incurable conditions and unbearable pain, but still, the human is an incredible being that can create happiness from nothing, like children create the imaginary worlds from sand and sticks.
Despite all the odds we have everything we need to be happy inside of us and around us: we are not obliged to be rich, famous or loved by everyone to be happy. Sometimes people have to fight for their happiness or even seek help, when they are unable to do so anymore, but the main point is that they deserve to be happy and their life is still priceless and can’t be compared to any other. Humankind may be ugly sometimes, but life itself is beautiful. And it can be changed for good always.